The Great Debate: Part 2

Continuing from my report on the Byron Sharp/Mark Riston debate at the Festival of Marketing, which you can find here.


Sharp and Ritson may have successfully publicised their ongoing feud with the debate, but the question that wasn't settled is: who is right?

The Great Debate: Part 2

Previously a few brave souls have dared to utter 'can't they both be right?' I expect they will both complain about me putting words in their mouths but I would expect Mark Ritson's response to be "yes, that's exactly what I'm saying", and Sharp to stick to his 'targeting is useless' guns.  They can't both be right but do you know what they both can be?


And not only is that okay, it's also likely and the natural order of things.

Let me explain.  A metaphor will help, let's talk about a different science: physics specifically.  Over the centuries there have been a number of theories to describe how our physical world works in mathematical terms: Newtonian physics is what you learned in school, General Relativity is what made Einstein an Einstein, and Quantum physics is still, as I understand it, the cutting edge.  I'm no physics professor, but ask one which theory is right?  They might quibble about the semantics of the language and say they all are as far as they go; the real answer is 'none of the above'.  Newtonian physics keeps bridges up but can't explain the orbit of Mercury, Relativity makes your GPS work but can't work out what to do with a neutrino, and Quantum physics makes your smartphone work but has no idea what to do with gravity. They are all wrong in different ways.

The point is that these are models.  Models of our physical world used to describe and understand it, but there is a lot more we don't know than that which we do so we keep finding things that these models don't account for and making new models to do just that.  Still, most of our bridges don't fall down and when I leave my smartphone somewhere I feel like someone cut off my arm.

The point: you don't have to be right to be useful.  You just need to have the evidence that your approach works for your problem.

Marketing concerns itself with another world - the world of consumer's minds.  The key to having the right marketing is basing your decisions on evidence that what you are doing is working.  Broad and targeted marketing are models of how that world works - both are wrong but both can be useful.  The layman's understanding of physics is that Relativity works very well with really big stuff - planets, stars and the like; Quantum works very well with really small stuff - I'll use the word Quarks like I know what it means.  You might say that Relativity is broad and Quantum is targeted.  So perhaps we can draw our metaphor one stage further and ask ourselves in our marketing lives: are we trying make our GPS work?  Or are we building a smartphone?

Or perhaps we just want to build a bridge?


Adam Pemberton

Research Director

2CV London